U.S. jobless rate falls to lowest level in 10 years, nonfarm job growth still below 100,000

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 326 views 

The unemployment rate fell to the lowest rate in nearly 10 years but the number of nonfarm payroll jobs added to the U.S. economy came in at the lowest level in 10 months, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday (April 7).

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 4.5% in March, the lowest U.S. jobless rate since May 2007, according to the statistical research arm of the Department of Labor. The jobless rate in February was 4.7%, and was at 5% in March 2016. Total nonfarm payroll employment edged up by 98,000 in March, following gains of 219,000 in February and 216,000.

The “U-6” jobless rate, which includes those “marginally” attached to the labor force and person employed part-time but seek full-time work, was 8.9%, down from 9.8% in March 2016 and down from 9.2% in February. Some economists point to the U-6 number as a better measure of the economy with respect to jobs.

In February, Arkansas’ jobless rate touched another all-time low of 3.7% as the state’s brimming labor pool added nearly 1,500 new workers and nonfarm employment jumped by 15,600 between months. The robust U.S. job market is also treading new ground, falling to the lowest level since May 2007 when George W. Bush was president at the nation’s jobless rate was at 4.5%.

The U.S. unemployment rate has averaged 5.81% from 1948 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 10.8% in November 1982 and a record low of 2.5% in May 1953, BLS data show. According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, 45% of U.S. employers plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in the second quarter – a significant jump from 34% last year and the highest percentage for the quarter dating back to 2007.

“This is the best forecast we have seen for the second quarter since we started doing this survey more than ten years ago,” said Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of The Talent Equation. “Nearly half of employers hired full-time employees in the first quarter and that momentum is expected to continue over the next few months. Companies say they are paying close attention to policies introduced by the new administration to assess the potential impact on businesses, but the hiring outlook is optimistic.”

Over the past year, the nation’s unemployment figure has held at a range between 4.5% on the low end in November and 5% in March and April of 2016. The U.S. employment picture follows the closely-watch ADP National Employment Report released on Thursday, which showed private sector employment increased by 263,000 jobs from February to March.

“The U.S. labor market finished the first quarter on a strong note,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “Consumer dependent industries including healthcare, leisure and hospitality, and trade had strong growth during the month.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics said, “Job growth is off to a strong start in 2017. The gains are broad based but most notable in the goods producing side of the economy including construction, manufacturing and mining.”

Overall, the BLS snapshot of the U.S. labor market shows that the number of unemployed persons declined by 326,000 to 7.2 million. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult women (4%), Whites (3.9%), and Hispanics (5.1%) declined in March. The jobless rates for adult men (4.3%), teenagers (13.7%), Blacks (8%), and Asians (3.3%) showed little or no change.

In March, the number of persons unemployed less than 5 weeks declined by 232,000 to 2.3 million. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed over the month at 1.7 million and accounted for 23.3% of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed was down by 526,000.

The labor force participation rate remained at 63% in March, and the employment-population ratio, at 60.1%, changed little. The employment-population ratio has edged up over the year, while the labor force participation rate has shown no clear trend.

Of the new workers added to U.S. payrolls in March, employment growth occurred in professional and business services and mining, while retail trade lost jobs. Employment in professional and business services, one of the nation’s highest-paying sectors, rose by 56,000, in line with the average monthly gain over the prior 12 months. Over the month, job gains occurred in services to buildings and dwellings (+17,000) and in architectural and engineering services (+7,000).

Mining added 11,000 jobs in March, with most of the gain occurring in support activities for mining (+9,000). Mining employment, which includes the oil and gas sector, has risen by 35,000 since reaching a recent low in October 2016.

Employment in March also continued to trend up in health care (+14,000), with job gains in hospitals (+9,000) and outpatient care centers (+6,000). In the first 3 months of this year, health care added an average of 20,000 jobs per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 32,000 in 2016.

Employment in financial activities continued to trend up in March (+9,000) and has increased by 178,000 over the past 12 months. Construction employment changed little in March (+6,000), following a gain of 59,000 in February. Employment in construction has been trending up since late last summer, largely among specialty trade contractors and in residential building.

Retail trade lost 30,000 jobs in March. Employment in general merchandise stores declined by 35,000 in March and has declined by 89,000 since a recent high in October 2016. Employment in other major industries, including manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little or no change over the month.

The average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls was unchanged at 34.3 hours in March. In manufacturing, the workweek edged down by 0.2 to 40.6 hours, and overtime rose by 0.1 hour to 3.2 hours. Average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents to $26.14 in March, following a last month’s 7-cent hike. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 68 cents, or 2.7%.